Today, I attended a Weekly Standard panel discussion about whether the Trump election signals a new era or is just a one-off event. I think he is the second president of a new era that began with our electing a movie actor president: Ronald Reagan.
There was a rather straightforward formula for becoming president before Reagan: graduate from an Ivy League college, go abroad to fight in a war as a junior officer, serve in the House of Representatives, then as governor or senator, then go straight to the presidency or via the vice presidency.
In other words, a little Ivy league mystique and polish, a little military service, and a career in DC politics. Kerry and Gore tried to follow that path at Yale and Harvard respectively then volunteered for Vietnam, then DC politics. They got the Democratic Party nomination, but each was beaten by the same draft dodger. Then “war hero” McCain got beat by another draft dodger: Obama.
So much for the notion that the military is a stepping stone to the Oval Office. Not anymore. The Ivy League (either undergrad or grad school) still seems to be a stepping stone. The Ivy League has produced 8 (Harvard) + 5 (Yale) + 3 (Columbia) + 2 (Princeton) + 1 (Penn) = 19 out of 45. Stanford, a sort of Western Ivy, and the two oldest service academies have produced four more adding up to 23 which is more than half.
Since 1900, only Harding, Coolidge, Truman, Johnson, and Reagan did NOT go to one of those eight schools, and Coolidge went to a Little Ivy—Amherst. And Coolidge, Truman, and Johnson went from VP to president upon the death of a president, not by election.
All the elections from 1992 through 2008 pitted a draft dodger or other non-active duty vet against a combat vet and the combat vet lost them all.
But here’s my main point. To get elected President, you need three things today: extremely high name recognition, a high Q rating (a Hollywood/Madison Avenue measure of name recognition/likability), and a modicum of presidential-ness.
Think Oprah, Michael Jordan, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Tom Hanks, Arnold, Springsteen, Farve, Bill Gates, Steven Spielberg—you get the idea.
Whom would central casting in Hollywood pick. We already know. Here is a list of some actors who have played fictional Presidents of the U.S.: Morgan Freeman, Martin Sheen, Gena Davis, Tom Selleck, Michael Douglas, Mark Harmon, Alan Alda, Dennis Quaid, Danny Glover, Gene Hackman, George Clooney, Jack Nicholson, John Travolta, Harrison Ford.
Am I saying all these guys would make great presidents? I have no idea. Am I saying they would all win if they ran? There is a very good chance of that. Add Clint Eastwood when he was a little younger.
I am serious.
What about government experience you ask? I answer with a question: what government experience did the last two winners—Obama and Trump—have?
See the pattern here? Hollywood actor Reagan won two terms as president (true, it was after two terms as governor of CA). Obama had a blank resume. Trump was a reality TV star to quote one of Hillary’s put downs of him. Here’s my put-down of Hillary. She was never a TV star of any kind, nor could she ever be. Ditto being President.
It’s logical. How much will it cost and how long will it take to get Mike Pence an Oprah level of name recognition? Why not start with a candidate who already has name recognition, like an Oprah or a Trump? It puts you way ahead in terms of the time and money you need to spend.
In an Oprah versus Pence race, she is running a 20-yard dash; he, a 100-yard dash. Oprah wins that race in an election and on the track.
And how much time and money will it take to raise Pence to an Oprah level Q rating? Will he EVER have an Oprah level Q rating? Why spend all that time and money—especially when you already have people who have similar Q ratings? And especially when there is no amount of money or time that will GUARANTEE Pence will get that. Oprah is already proven likable and popular.
Who will you bet on in a Pence-Oprah race? But, you say, the presidency is not Hollywood. Maybe it should not be, but Reagan did all right and when asked how an actor could be president, he responded, “I don’t understand how a NON-actor could be president.”
He has a point. How does the President relate to the vast majority of Americans? By TV.
So how the heck does it make sense to put anyone OTHER than a TV star in that job? So start with a list of Americans ranked the highest in Q rating and work your way down to the first one who wants the job and who has the amount of decorum, intelligence, and education. Make him or her your candidate.
Experience exschmerience. It made no difference for Obama. To hell with experience. That’s so 1960. Don’t take no for an answer. Tell the target it’s his or her patriotic duty. If that doesn’t work, ask, “Do you really want to be the one who let Oprah become President?” Does anyone think Joe Biden is going to beat Tom Selleck in a debate? Is Mike Pence going to look more presidential than Morgan Freeman? As my Unelected President “Mike Medlock” says in that novel: “The presidency is a TV show.”